March 22, 2015

That Time We Accidentally Found the Red Light District in Nuremberg



Note:  This post contains personal, moral, and political opinions regarding prostitution.  If you disagree with my position, I welcome your comments and defense of your position, but request that you refrain from personal attacks, vulgarity, profanity, or rudeness.  

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"Hey, let's go down this way and walk along the city walls."

With this suggestion from Danny, we busted a sharp left down the cobblestone streets of Nürnberg's Altstadt or Old Town.  This was new territory for us.  Danny hadn't visited since he was a child spending his summers playing soccer in the shadows of thousand year old city walls, so he had few clear memories of this city.  For me, this visit to Nürnberg, or Nuremberg as most Americans know it, was my first and the culmination of a long wish to see the city where my grandfather had served as a guard during the infamous Nuremberg Trials.

As we walked down the street with the walls to our left, Danny began happily taking pictures of the ramparts, towers, and catwalks looming over us.  Garments, primarily lingerie, hung from the beams of the catwalk.  I frowned as I'd never encountered anything so, well, intimate having ever been displayed so brazenly in Germany.  It just didn't seem very German in my experience.

Just at that moment, I saw two middle-aged women ahead of us, standing beside an open door and scowling in our general direction.  As Danny's camera continued to snap away, one of them began shouting at us.

"Nee, nee!  Keine Fotos!"

And that's what I realized what Danny was still oblivious to.  Apparently, we were in the middle of the red light district.

To my right, a few girls were draped across the sills of the open windows, smoking cigarettes and wearing nothing but lingerie.  A red, heart-shaped sign hung above the door, simply reading "Nr. 49."  I now understood that the two middle-aged women were madams, hell-bent on making sure we were not trying to photograph their wares, and the name of the area, Frauentormauer, finally made sense, too, as it was a combination of the words for women, gate, and walls.

I felt nauseous, tricked, embarrassed and ashamed.  But above all, I felt sad.

Sure, prostitution is legal in Germany.
Sure, the women receive regular check-ups and mandatory testing.
Sure, it's highly regulated, and the daily transactions are taxed just like any other.

But...

From the Rahab Foundation in Costa Rica.
See also: My Words As Weapons.
You see, as much as people argue that prostitution should be a woman's choice, that it empowers the woman, that legalized prostitution protects the women and gives them a better societal standing, and that any opinion to the contrary is a Puritanical, patriarchal "war against women," I cannot be persuaded or convinced of that, particularly when I see women displayed as if they are no more than cheap china for sale in a window.  Prostitution objectifies women.  Legalized prostitution is government-sanctioned objectification of women.

As quickly as we had stumbled into the area, we power-walked our way out.  But unfortunately, this wrong turn shadowed my overall experience in Nürnberg.  The city has a lot of wonderful sites, and although I enjoyed them, it wasn't as wholeheartedly as I might have if we hadn't taken that turn along the walls.  I couldn't get the images of the women out of my mind or shake the feeling of sadness.  Sometimes travel opens our eyes to amazing new places and ideas, but sometimes it reminds us of situations that expose the dark side of human nature.

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Have you ever made a wrong turn on your travels and seen something you wished you hadn't?


Linking up with Chasing the DonkeyPack Me ToA Southern GypsyThe Fairytale Traveler, and Ice Cream & Permafrost for the #SundayTraveler!
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Linking up with Bonnie RoseAmandaCaityMarcella, and Michelle for #TravelTuesday!

15 comments:

  1. I was going to comment but as I've been requested to "refrain from personal attacks, vulgarity, profanity, or rudeness" that kind of uses up my repertoire of words! Seriously, though, it's such a complex twisty issue, with empowerment on one side and slavery on the other. Just tough.

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    1. No one blog post can ever fully encapsulate a discussion on an issue like this. I hardly feel competent or eloquent enough to write about this as there as so many different situation and reasons why women end up in prostitution, legalized or not. I have a lot of compassion and sadness towards those women, and whether a country legalizes it or not, I think it is nothing but damaging. Some may find temporary empowerment from it, but ultimately there is nothing healthy or uplifting or sexy about it. It's certainly not like "Pretty Woman" for 99.99% of women trapped in that lifestyle.

      On a more political note, I do think that current laws in the U.S. tend to criminalize the women more than the johns or even the customers, which doesn't help the situation at all.

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  2. I've been to Amsterdam's Red Light District and once had a prostitute on the side of the road near a beach in Santo Domingo proposition my brother and male cousin. The beach was literally being used as a trash dump, but I guess that's where she'd take her clients for service. During both of these encounters, I also felt sad. Especially as a woman. I agree that there's nothing empowering about prostitution - legalized or not. We have so much more to offer the world, and it's disheartening that some women feel like they have no other options. Feminism is all about giving women options to make empowered choices. Clearly, prostitution doesn't align with that ethos. But I don't blame or judge the women who fall into this lifestyle. My heart goes out to them.

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    1. I agree with you 100%. I think I may add a post script to make sure it's clear that I'm not judging these women at all. So many are coerced into it or feel they have no other options of survival. I have nothing but compassion for them.

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  3. Oh what a tough issue, not something that I care to weight in on online - just too complex. You did a great job, I wish that this just did not exist.

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    1. I almost didn't write about it. My heart goes out to the women in these situations, and it's hard not to feel powerless when it comes down to figuring out how to actually help them. Like you said, I wish it just did not exist and that a wave of a magic wand would resolve it.

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  4. This happened to me in Amsterdam as a child, my family were taking photos of the beautiful buildings until we suddenly looked up and saw the women in the windows!

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    1. It's really just a shame. Thanks for reading.

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  5. Sorry to hear that it tainted the rest of your experience. Fortunately, I haven't come face to face with prostitution (legal or otherwise) in my travels. I'm not certain how I would feel exactly, but I imagine sad would be one emotion to overcome me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience!

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    1. It definitely did shadow the visit. I did enjoy Nuremberg, but I felt too unsettled and sad for my heart to be 100% into it. But yes, (legal) prostitution is a controversial subject, and I wasn't sure how this post would be received.

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  6. In Italy, prostitution is very very ok. If you roll down the road (outside of the tourist center of course) you will see tons of woman, who I've been told have been traffic'ed and tricked to come here to do this. It really kills me and I'm ashamed to say I usually just look away - it's one of those moments. What do you do?
    I can see how this would color your experience of a place...

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    1. Yeah, it's really disturbing. :(

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  7. I did this same thing in Amsterdam and was disturbed to find that not only were the men on the street openly calling to the women in the windows, but used that neighborhood as an excuse for poor behavior towards all women there, including my friend and myself. I had never felt more afraid of catcallers; the movie "Taken" didn't help with this perception.

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    1. Ugh, that sounds terrible. I've read on other blogs how white women in Korea will be asked "are you Russian?" which is basically code for "are you a prostitute?" Sometimes they won't take no for an answer and will ask repeatedly. It's such a sad situation.

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  8. Unfortunately, these areas exist in nearly every German city. I lived right next to the red light district in my 70,000-person town when I first moved here (can you believe that even such small cities have these areas?!). My reaction when I accidentally stumbled upon it was similar to yours. At first I thought it was cute that the building across the alley from mine had hearts along the roof. Then, when I walked around the side of the building, I saw the women in the windows, and children (!) standing in front of them laughing as the women yelled at them to go away.

    So, I hope you don't let it tarnish your overall opinion of Nürnberg, because (unfortunately) this is nothing unique to Nürnberg.

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